By John Delong, Winston-Salem Open
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – When Kevin Anderson came to the inaugural Winston-Salem Open in 2011, it was not the best of experiences.
He came down with food poisoning and was forced to withdraw before the tournament even started.
From now on, the 29-year-old South African will have much, much better memories.
Anderson claimed the third ATP World Tour title of his career and his first of 2015 on Saturday afternoon with a 6-4, 7-5 victory over qualifier Pierre-Hugues Herbert.
He capped a near-flawless week of serving with his best performance of the tournament, with 16 aces and 31 winners compared to only 12 unforced errors. He got the only break he needed in the first set in the fifth game, fought off four break points early in the second set, and ultimately won the last three games to claim the title.
“Obviously it feels much better leaving here as a champion as opposed to having to pull out,” Anderson said, recalling the bout with food poisoning.
Anderson had previously won titles in his hometown of Johannesburg in 2011 and Delray Beach in 2012. By winning Saturday, he was able to snap a streak of seven straight trips to finals without winning. He was runner-up to Andy Murray at London Queen’s Club earlier this summer and lost in the finals to Kei Nishikori at Memphis during the indoor season.
“As each match progresses and you get closer to the finals and have the chance at winning a tournament, of course that stars playing in your mind, having been in the finals a few times and coming up short,” he said. “Obviously, it feels fantastic to get that win. It’s been a few years since I’ve won a tournament and it’s something I can look back and feel very happy about.”
Anderson, the second seed who decided to take a wildcard after losing in the first round at both Washington and Montreal, actually got off to a rocky start to the week. He lost the first set in his second-round match against Mikhail Kukushkin before righting the ship and winning in three sets. Then he got continually better as the week progressed in beating Jerzy Janowicz in the third round, Borna Coric in the quarterfinals, and Malek Jaziri in the semifinals.
For the week, he held serve in 55 of 56 games, and saved 17 of 18 break points.
“It started a little bit rough,” Anderson said. “Just thinking back to my first match against Kukushkin, not playing very well in the first set and getting broken, I remember breaking my racquet, and then things just seemed to click. I felt comfortable throughout the week and it definitely makes my life on the court easier. I’m able to relax more and I think I was able to keep a level head well throughout the week. I was aggressive. That’s the way I was playing. I felt I came out and took care of business.”
Anderson got the only break he needed in the first set in the fifth game for a 3-2 lead. Then things got very interesting in the second set. In the fourth game, Anderson fell behind love-40, but he responded with two service winners and an ace to get to 40-40. He had to save another break point later in the game, but he did it and was able to dodge the bullet.
“Getting down love-40, it’s very important to get it back,” Anderson said. “I mean, being down a break against somebody who was serving the way he was serving would have been tough. Obviously getting through there was probably the pivotal moment of the match for me.”
Anderson got his final break in the 11 game of the second set, when Herbert double-faulted on break point. From there, it was just a matter of holding serve one more time for the championship.
“In the second set, he started serving very, very well,” Anderson said of Herbert. “It was quite hot out there. I have been playing in a little cooler conditions and I was feeling a little bit more fatigued. But of course in my mind, that wasn’t really an option, playing against an opponent who has played four more matches than me. So I just fought through it.”
Herbert, a clear crowd favorite for his amazing exploits all week, said he was so tired he couldn’t feed off the crowd the way he would have liked. Letting the four break points slip away in the second set probably took the last of the wind out of his sails.
“Actually I had the feeling in the second set I was missing something,” Herbert said. “I was starting to think a little bit beginning of the second. I had one game I missed three forehands and I got a little tight and I don’t know why, because the whole week I never got tight. I don’t know if it was because I was getting tired or not. But he was playing great. He was serving unbelievable the whole match. Really consistent. There was really nothing much to do. He did well. He deserved to win.”
For the 24-year-old Herbert, there was plenty of consolation. Ranked No. 140 coming into the tournament, he will now jump all the way inside the Top 100 when the new ATP World Tour rankings come out on Monday.
He was the second Frenchman to go from qualifying to a WSO final, after Julien Benneteau went from qualifying to the finals in the inaugural 2011 tournament.
Herbert beat Kimmer Coppenjans, Kevin King and Sekou Bangoura in qualifying. Then he knocked off Sergiy Stakhovsky in the first round, Marcos Baghdatis in the second round, Aljaz Bedene in the third round, Pablo Carreno Busta in the quarterfinals, and Steve Johnson in the semifinals.
“For sure, it’s a very positive week,” Herbert said. “Actually, I didn’t expect to do this. I came here to get some matches, but I didn’t expect to play that much matches, nine matches. But I’m arriving at the US Open with a lot of momentum and I’m really happy with that. It’s the best result of my career. I can’t say I have much to regret because I think I played a good final and he beat me because he was better today and is a better player for the moment.”
Anderson had kind words for tournament director Bill Oakes and everyone involved with the tournament.
“I think it’s really a fantastic event,” Anderson said. “Everybody’s really friendly and looks after us, and that goes a long way. Just the little things make a difference. Just from the venue itself to the catering, everything we’ve had has been terrific. I think everybody goes out of their way, and I think that makes a big difference.”